This time of year, a lot of people are preoccupied with reflecting on the past twelve months, as well as planning out the next twelve. We seem to believe we’ll be better, more resilient, more committed versions of our current selves, just as soon as that number changes from a six to a seven.
The truth is pretty simple: we don’t change with the drop of a ball or the chime of clock. We change when we want to change. We change when we feel that the pain of the way things are is too great to bear any longer. We change when we listen to ourselves and realize what it is we want to change most in the first place.
Well, even after trying on a savings challenge over the past year, I didn’t feel very motivated by my goals. I may have been trying to do too many things at once. Instead of reaching any of those goals, I focused mainly on getting my house in order. If 2015 was the year of paying off student loan debt, then 2016 was definitely the year of the house. I have a few things in mind for 2017, but I don’t know yet what will be the major focus. I do know that I have financial goals, and they’re all based around a value system, really (much like Des at Half Banked has articulated.) But, I do see them as goals because they have actual numbers. And, over the last week, I’ve started to feel an urgency to meet one in particular, and the others in a new order of priority.
In the savings challenge, I wanted to remodel and furnish the house. Check. I wanted to put $10,000 in my emergency fund. Fail. I was going to max out my IRA by the end of the year. Fail. In the last week, I’ve been feeling a strong desire to pay off my mortgage quickly, like I did with the debt. No check or no fail. Haven’t even started.
I’ve lined up some temp work over my holiday break from teaching. Since getting the assignment, I’ve made probably ten different plans for the money I’ll earn. I could make a payment toward my mortgage principal. I could put it in my IRA. I could add it to my emergency fund. I could use it to help pay for some crawlspace work. I could pay down some medical bills.
Well, all of those are fine uses of the money. But, more than anything, that emergency fund is on my mind.
For years now, I’ve been able to keep $5,000 in the fund. I’ve made it over that threshold a number of times, and every time I’ve had to dip into the account to pay for, well, an emergency. Or, a “life happens” situation. I was able to keep it at $5,000 the entire time I was paying off the loans. I’ve tried to grow it over the last year, and it keeps coming back to that baseline.
Well, the pain is too great. More than any other goal, this one plagues me the most. I want to raise that baseline. If I can manage to put $10,000 in that fund, then I can manage to KEEP $10,000 in that fund.
I want $10,000 to be the new baseline.
Then, I can get the crawlspace work done. I can make extra payments to my mortgage without guilt. I can throw money at the medical bills. I can max out my retirement account.
But not before I move that needle.
I don’t think I’ll be a completely different person in the new year, but I do think I’ll be a person with a new baseline. That’s the goal: change the baseline. Level up. Think bigger.
It starts with $5,000 and it moves with $5,000.
For the next few weeks (or months) I’ll be scrambling to save. Right now, I’ve got $5,303. My plan isn’t complicated. I’ll save the temp gig earnings. I’ll save some of my last two paychecks of 2016. I may do some freelance writing if I’m brave enough to contact some people. I’ve got a couple of things left that could go on Craigslist. I’m joining the Frugalwoods Uber Frugal Challenge in January and I’ll bank any savings from that endeavor.
But, I should note, I’m not forgoing a ticket to a New Year’s party or an oil change or some preliminary crawlspace work that I want to pay for out of pocket.
Side note: I believe the crawlspace work will cost around $2,000 if I play my cards right. A radon crew will install their doohickey and insulate the walls and lay a plastic boundary for $1,500. I need to hire someone to remove the debris and change the door. I need to get in there myself and do a few minor things. I’ll also be the one sealing the vents from the outside. All in all, $2,000 is better than the $6000 lowest estimate I got from basement specialists.
I’m not paying for the radon crew until I get $10,000 in that account. Then, whatever I save on top of that can go toward life stuff. This is also the account I want to throw money into in case I need to buy a different car. I think I’ll make this my new MacBook Fund, too.
It’s all I can think about when I think about money right now: raise that bar. I’ve hit a plateau, and it’s going to take $5,000 to move on from it.
I want to, though. That’s the most important thing. The easiest way to prioritize any financial goal is to take notice of the thing you want most. It’s not hard. It’s the thing you can’t stop thinking about. It’s the thing you feel most certain about pursuing. It might start as a whisper, but give it some space. Before you know it, you’ll hear it scream.